New, old meet at MIPTV

Modern tech is hot, but so is free TV

Sunshine and blue skies above the Riviera were matched by a renewed sense of confidence among buyers and sellers at MIPTV as the market began to wind down Wednesday.

New market opportunities from broadband, IPTV and VOD suppliers in such territories as Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore as well as an upswing in growth in traditional and emerging markets in Europe and Africa combined to give distributors cause for cheer.

"Free television is still our dominant source of revenue, and the good news is that it is growing," said Tom Toumazis, executive vp and managing director of Buena Vista International Television. "Developing markets in Central (and) Eastern Europe, Africa, Canada and Turkey are all revenue drivers. There's a lot of market plurality, increasing choice and foreign investment going into these territories. You have the foundations of an aggressively growing market."

Free-TV revenue also is growing in such mature markets as the U.K., France and Spain, where growth in free-to-air digital terrestrial platforms is generating competition for product, Toumazis added.

BVITV signed a slew of deals at the market, including a package deal for "Ugly Betty," "Brothers & Sisters" and "October Road" with South African pay platform MNet; its first VOD deal in Hong Kong; and an 80-territory free-TV deal for the preschool show "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

Global buyers still have an appetite for U.S. fare, said Fremantle Media Enterprises CEO David Ellender, who this year brought director John Waters to the market to promote the new series "Love You to Death."

"Drama has been a key genre for us this MIPTV, where we've launched two brand-new series ('Love You to Death' and 'The Best Years') to the international market," Ellender said. "The renaissance of U.S. drama and buyers' thirst for content outside of traditional American network procedural series has created niche opportunities that we're delighted to be able to explore (while) further establishing our position as a leading distributor of U.S. cable drama."

Along the Croisette, studios were signing VOD, mobile and Internet TV deals, not just for Asian markets — where many new-media platforms are established businesses — but also for the big European territories.

One of the bigger of these agreements was CBS Paramount International Television's deal with Germany's ProSiebenSat.1 for exclusive VOD rights to the current seasons of hit shows "Navy NCIS," "Medium" "Numbers" and "Jericho." It was the first major international VOD deal for CBS Paramount.

All the majors are adding mobile, Internet and VOD to their bread-and-butter TV contracts as they try to establish a presence in a rapidly changing market, but the financial returns are not really in yet.

"At the moment, we are devoting a disproportionate amount of our time (to new media) compared to the revenue coming out of it," said John McMahon, president and managing director of European operations at Sony Pictures Television International. "But it's important for us to be in that space. It's really a learning experience for everyone involved to see what sort of models work and where the big business will be coming from."

In his keynote speech to MIPTV attendees Monday, Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of leading European broadcaster RTL Group, said all broadcasters will have to adapt a multiplatform strategy to ensure growth (HR 4/17). Zeiler said that in the near future, RTL expects to earn half its revenue from sources other than traditional free-TV advertising.

Asia's digital market, and particularly Korea's on-demand and mobile broadcast platforms, were buying content in a big way.

Korea Telecom's new MegaPass platform announced deals for 400 hours from Granada International and 100 hours from E! Networks.

Asia also has a new seat at the table in the global co-production business, with a surge in co-productions between European and Asia production houses as well as an increase in Asia-focused factual programming by international producers, buyers said.

"There has been a huge increase in Asian content from foreign producers," said Charmaine Kwan, director of programming at Discovery Channel Asia. "Because these are now being made for European broadcasters, they're much more suitable for regional broadcasters like us."

The region's migration to HD also has opened up new opportunities for local and international producers and distributors.

Singapore production houses brought the country's biggest slate of HD content ever to MIP this year under the umbrella of the Media Development Authority. Many of the shows were created under the MDA's $350 million fund to develop digital and interactive programming.

"The Asia market is on the verge of rapid HD deployment, from content sales to new channels," said Glenn Oakley, senior vp global operations and business development at Voom HD Networks.

"We've seen a great response at MIP because distributors in Asia are now focused on making their HD plans work over the next year," he said.

Janine Stein contributed to this report.